Civility Linkblogging: Classroom, Internet, and Transit

Linkblogging
By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

This post is part of our ongoing effort to highlight discourse about civility around the web. Our articles for civility linkblogging come from a wide cross-section of blogs and newspapers, magazines and other websites, from the United States and abroad.

This week’s post focuses on what we might call small civilities — etiquette on trains and in parking lots, civility in online gaming communities and student evaluations. But as these articles all make clear, small civilities add up. Teaching evaluations in college classrooms may mean a venue to vent for disappointed students, but for instructors, they are a measure of continued employment. Crowded trains may seem like mere inconvenience, but as Dr. P. M. Forni says, in a close-quartered bus or train, you have in action two of the main incivility-causing factors. These are anonymity and stress. And in combination, they can escalate into violence.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at editor@instituteforcivility.org. Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

Want to Save Civility in Gaming Culture? Confront the Bullies.
Posted by Lisa Granshaw at The Daily Dot, May 12, 2014

Tito thinks engaging with these commenters is important and that just ignoring them doesn’t solve anything. Giant Bomb news editor Patrick Klepek, who spoke on another panel on the topic called “Why Internet jerks aren’t going to win, and you can help,” agreed.

“I don’t really subscribe to the idea of ignoring the trolls and they’ll go away, because—pro tip—they don’t…” he said. “We need to talk about this because we need to make sure people know what’s happening.”

Klepek points out harassment isn’t exclusive to game culture. It’s more of an Internet problem. He finds that instead of a passionate debate of opinions in his comments sections, there will be a small but vocal group that shouts and bullies.

Parking Lot Civility
Posted by Annabel Monaghan at annabelmonaghan.com, May 15, 2014

In the YMCA parking lot I was wholly focused on my own interests. I’m going to miss my meeting. I’m going to miss my shower. I’m really sweating here. How could this woman do this to ME? Since I was already so involved with myself, I decided to look a little closer. Yes, I too sometimes do thoughtless things that inconvenience others. I sometimes forget to signal or don’t notice that the light has changed. I sometimes stop my car in the middle of the street to chat with a friend and fail to notice the cars lined up behind me. There’s more, but you get the idea.

It was a humbling exercise, and by the time I finished my self-examination I was feeling pretty darn civil. If I can figure out how to make this a habit, then maybe I can keep it together the next time someone parks so close to me that I have to crawl through my trunk to get into my car. Because, guess what, I sometimes park like an idiot too.

ADL Head Warns of Bullies in the Internet Age
Posted by Eve Sullivan at the Stamford Advocate, May 20, 2014

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was recently asked to give a college commencement speech, but then one student protested and said he would be a disruption to the graduation.

However, Foxman went “because this was freedom of speech used to bully and intimidate,” he said.

After the speech, Foxman said he publicly embraced the student who asked him not to come. He said the student later sent him an email saying he couldn’t believe the embrace happened, and that it was a lesson in civility.

Foxman said having a true democracy in society has always been a challenge, but he said he wonders whether people are now facing something more subversive.

Commuters Get Squished, Etiquette Gets Squashed
Posted by Samantha Melamed at Philly.com, May 22, 2014

Nationwide, transit ridership is up 37.2 percent since 1995. On SEPTA Regional Rail, ridership grew by 50 percent in the last 15 years.

But it’s a recipe for rudeness, said P.M. Forni, founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University.

Incivility is an age-old problem, he said. “But in a close-quartered bus or train, you have in action two of the main incivility-causing factors. These are anonymity and stress.”

In other words, it feels OK to be a jerk on the bus, because you’re harried and no one knows you.

But, Forni warned, “Incivility often escalates into violence, and that’s one reason we need to take it seriously.”

Writing a Student Evaluation Can Be Like Trolling the Internet
Posted by Heidi Tworek at The Atlantic, May 21, 2014

Clearly, some students don’t take these assessments seriously, which is particularly problematic for non-tenure track faculty—teaching evaluations have become the singular metric for hiring adjuncts. Predictably, this has encouraged these educators to pander to students and acquiesce to grade grubbers.

But these issues aren’t unique to student evaluations. Course assessments look a lot like public discourse on the Internet, from product evaluations to discussion boards to comments sections on news sites. For some—the comment champions—this shift of power toward everyday users is emancipatory, offering spaces to share thoughts and shape how other people think and view products. For others—the comment curmudgeons—the often-derisive culture of online commenting eliminates chances for civil debate and intellectual integrity.

Civility and Cybercivility in Schools: Two Updates

In December of 2013, Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools for Montgomery County, Maryland, faced a distinctly uncivil snow-day situation online. According to Washington D.C.’s NBC 4, as the weather worsened and as he decided whether or not to cancel school he began receiving tweets from students that ranged from snarky to “offensive and disturbing.”

According to NBC, Starr said that some of these tweets were clever, funny, and respectful, pleading for me to cancel school so they could sleep in or have more time to do their homework. But not all. They also included rampant use of racial epithets and curse words, and threats to himself and to his family.

In response, Starr wrote a letter to parents calling for a renewed conversation about how we can support our children in using technology in a way that is healthy, productive, and positive. We need, he said, to talk about “cybercivility”: how we can help our children grow into responsible and caring adults who interact with one another in a civil, respectful way. And he directed his staff to develop some materials and methods to help schools and families navigate these conversations.

In 2014, it seems, Joshua Starr has leveraged his experience to take matters one step further in a constructive direction. In this February 19 interview on D.C.’s Fox 5 news, he speaks with reporters about the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Cybercivility Task Force — a new initiative that will — according to mymcmedia.comdevelop strategies to raise awareness of the need for cybercivility in how MCPS students and adults communicate online, and guide the creation of tools for schools, parents and community members that encourage conversations about cybercivility.

DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

The goal, Starr says, is to teach our kids to behave online in the same way we expect them to comport themselves in public… Just like we expect our kids to say please and thank you, and all that, we want them to act the same on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever else they are socially engaged on the internet.

You can find out more about the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Cybercivility Task Force by clicking here.

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In the meantime, New Hampshire Public Radio has this short interview with Malcolm Smith, professor in the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Education and founder of the Courage to Care Program, a curriculum aimed at encouraging empathy and civility among middle school students. Like Joshua Starr, he talks about the importance of training students in civility as a bulwark against bullying. And as part of teacher training, he has been instructing nascent educators in techniques that do just that.